Commissioners’ concerns remain around Liverpool property management

Liverpool Council must address “deep seated challenges” in its property management service with “insufficient progress made”, commissioners have warned.

In their fourth report from their time in Liverpool, published by the government today, the five-strong team of Whitehall-appointed commissioners paint a much more positive picture of the situation at the city’s council almost three years on from their arrival. The officials have heaped praise on new council leader Liam Robinson and newly installed chief executive Andrew Lewis.

However, not all areas have seen the same level of progress as others, with property management still considered a major issue at the council. 

The commissioners have said that this means they expect some government support to remain in Liverpool beyond the June deadline – although Mr Cunningham said he would expect this to be “months rather than years”.

In their latest findings, sent to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the commissioners said, “The council has not yet addressed the requirement to fundamentally reform the property function. This was a driver for the original Best Value Inspection. 

“Addressing the deep seated challenges in this function is a test for the leadership in the coming months.”

A full term director of property is to be appointed amid the senior team being led by an interim member of staff. The report said property services’ continued under performance was “an area of acute concern” for the commissioners “as improvements have been slow to materialise”.

Following concerns being raised, the commissioner team alongside Mr Lewis agreed to adopt a different operating model and appoint an external strategic partner to drive forward improvement; address the skills, capability and capacity gaps and introduce best practice. The report added: “Until such a partner is in place, the commissioners cannot be confident the service is stable, or be satisfied with the trajectory for improvement. Commissioners require greater focus and pace in the procurement and appointment of a strategic partner.”

The assessment sent to Mr Gove’s department said authority officials recognised the challenges presented by the weaknesses in its property service, with a property improvement board established by the chief executive. They wrote: “We welcome this, and welcome the chief executive and leader’s commitment to view property and asset management as a ‘whole council’ challenge – that requires priority and focus from the leadership of the organisation. 

“We will set out progress towards this in the next report, and provide a recommendation about whether powers in this area can be returned to the council.”

Further concerns have been raised around the delivery of services as a whole, which were described as “below standard” and were urged to be addressed through its culture change programme. Additionally, shortcomings were identified in the delivery of regeneration across Liverpool.

The commissioners said, “The capability and capacity gaps still remain, the development of a sustainable economic growth strategy to increase productivity and improve prosperity for residents has yet to commence. There still much to do to restart regeneration in the city and restore investor confidence.”

These areas meant officials said a potential further release on their grip across the Cunard could not be guaranteed yet. They wrote: “It is too early to come to a recommendation on return of powers in regeneration and property. 

“We need to see significant improvements between now and March when we will submit our next report. We are working with the council to ensure transparency on requirements for these service areas.”

Despite this, the commissioners said they felt Liverpool Council is at the “most stable” it has been since beginning their work almost three years ago, with a “clarity on objectives” moving forward. They added: “We believe the right people are in place to address the challenges the city faces. The scale of the challenge remaining is very significant and will need focussed attention long after commissioners leave the council.

“ As a result, our confidence in the leadership to continuously improve must be cast-iron. To achieve this, we need more time to evidence difficult decision-making and strength of leadership.”

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